Solomon Islands election in the balance as voting continues

By Thomson Reuters Apr 22, 2024 | 1:17 AM

By Kirsty Needham

(Reuters) – The Solomon Islands election, watched by China and the U.S. for its impact on regional security, is shaping up as a tight race with opposition parties gaining seats and independents holding the key to forming the next government.

Last week’s national election was the first since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022, drawing the Pacific Islands nation closer to Beijing. The move concerned the U.S. and neighbouring Australia because of the potential impact on regional security.

Counting for several seats continued on Monday, as results showed the opposition CARE coalition drawing level with Sogavare’s OUR party on 12 seats in a 50-seat parliament.

Independents and micro parties took 16 seats, and the major parties will seek to win independent support in negotiations this week in the race to form government.

CARE includes Matthew Wale’s Solomon Islands Democratic Party, U4C and the Democratic Alliance Party. Another prominent opposition party, Peter Kenilorea Jr’s United, which said it would scrap the China security pact, won seven seats.

One source with direct knowledge told Reuters two independent candidates had joined CARE on Monday, and unofficial results showed it had won two more seats, which would take its numbers to 16.

High profile former prime minister Gordon Darcy Lilo returns to parliament after a decade, as the only winning candidate for the Party for Rural Advancement.

Daniel Suidani, the former premier of Malaita province and a prominent critic of China, regained his seat in the provincial assembly in Malaita, and said on Monday his party, U4C, hoped to regain the premiership.

Provincial and national elections were held on the same day.

“It looks as though the CARE coalition – U4C, DAP and SIDP – are very shortly joining with some other independent candidates, so it is looking good,” Suidani told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday, adding the process could take a number of days.

Sogavare’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In excerpts of an interview with Solomon Islands’ Tavuli News on Monday, Sogavare pledged there would be “a lot of reforms” if his government is returned.

Two women enter parliament for the first time as independents.

Police and defence forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji assisting with election security.

The election process had been peaceful, although there were a few disturbances in Malaita by supporters of losing candidates, two officials in Malaita said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)